Compromise in a relationship? When we talk with friends about our relationship struggles, at one point in the conversation one of the following sentences inevitably comes up: ‘You know, a relationship means making compromises’ or ‘It is give & take’.
I would never question the truth of this infallible relationship advice. However, I do believe that not all disagreements are the same, and hence ask for different compromises to resolve the conflict. Roughly, there are two levels of disagreements. On one hand struggles about practical daily occasions in life. For example, the colour of the new sofa or visiting his/her family for Christmas this year. These cause annoyance, can trigger arguments and if happen too often can pose a serious threat to a relationship.
On the other hand there are discussions on compromising one’s individual values and desires. These might not creep up in the beginning of a relationship, but could have more severe consequences at a later stage. How far are you willing to go for your ideal job, will you move for his new career step, how will you two handle kids (do you want kids at all)? Although these discussions often start around a practical issue, they soon turn into a question on one’s individual freedom, wishes or perception of life.
However, you can compromise in two ways as well. Either you meet somewhere in the middle (he wants a black sofa, she a white one, one solution: pick a mixture of the two), or one of you completely compromises on a topic for the other (e.g. when one of the two has to give up a job, to move to another country). Obviously, the latter will create much more pressure on a relationship than the first one.
Disagreements vs. Compromises
If you would match the two kinds of disagreements (practical vs. values) against the two types of compromises you can make (meet in the middle vs. either/or), you see an overview of the types of issues and matching solutions you will face in any relationship. All of them will come up at some point. Hopefully, the practical issues will rise the most often, and can thankfully be solved relatively easy by either meeting in the middle or, as the relationship advice above states ‘by give and take’. These issues shouldn’t put a lot of pressure on a relationship, as long as both are willing to compromise now and then. However, advisable is to always strive for a middle way, where both are somehow satisfied.
More difficult are the disagreements around conflicting values or life wishes. The question is even whether you should compromise on those. Many relationship coaches and psychological research suggest that your individual life goals and values define who you are and they should match with your ideal partner. Giving up on them, or asking your partner to give up on them, will not result in a satisfying relationship. Specifically either/or compromises on values should at all costs be prevented in a relationship. Always try to steer such a discussion towards finding a middle way or find a solution to the underlying practical reason for the discussion. Perhaps you are willing to make a compromise on your values in the short term, but often in the long term this can result in regret.
Compromises are an essential part of being in a relationship, don’t be afraid of them! Just think about those decisions with a rational mind, try to create win-win situations and stay true to who both of you are. This will result in the best relationships!
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